Ribbit, the startup that is building a platform for Voice 2.0 apps, is creating a Web-based phone service for consumers codenamed “Amphibian.” The point of Amphibian is both to demonstrate the capabilities of Ribbit’s technology and to serve as a marketplace for Ribbit developers to showcase and sell their own voice apps. Co-founders Ted Griggs and Crick Waters dropped by my office last week to give me a sneak peak at the service, which will launch publicly in a few months. Amphibian in a nutshell, says Crick, is the “convergence of your personal mobile communications with your personal web experience.”
Let’s start with the communications part. Amphibian is a Web-based phone that acts as a command center for all of your incoming and outgoing calls, no matter what number people use. It effectively gives you a universal phone number. Whether someone calls your home, office, or cell phone, or even rings you on Skype, Google Talk, or MSN Messenger, you can answer all the calls on Amphibian or route them to wherever is most convenient for you. “The codename is Amphibian,” explains Crick, “because it lives equally well outside the Web as inside the Web.” During a live demo, Ted called Crick’s cell phone, and Crick answered it on Amphibian. In the middle of the call, he transferred it back to his cell, which rang, and he picked up the conversation where he left off.
At its heart, Amphibian is a Flash phone that can call other Web-based voice clients or regular phones. It is built on Adobe Flex, so an AIR version will be available as well that can sit on your desktop without your browser having to be open to the Amphibian Web page all the time. And since it is Flash, the phone can look like anything, even a chalkboard, and you will be able to embed it into other sites, like your Facebook page or your iGoogle page. (In the screen shots left and right, the black rectangle is the same working Ribbit phone in two different Web settings).
Amphibian lets you synchronize your contacts with Plaxo, and will soon support other services. You can also see someone’s associated feeds from Flickr, YouTube, Google News, LinkedIn, or his blog while you are talking to him. Think of it as Caller ID 2.0. There is also a “call rescue” feature that, if you speed dial Amphibian right after a call goes to voicemail, it lets you listen in as the other person is leaving the message and interrupt to save the call. For some reason, this feature is particularly popular with women, who either lose their phones in their purses all the time or simply like to screen their calls.
Amphibian will be free for Internet calls, but there will be a charge for calls to regular phones along the lines of $5 a month for four hours of talk-time or $15 a month for unlimited calls in the U.S. (the company is still working out the pricing). Developers will be able to add additional services, browsable in a market area of the site, for which they can charge extra or give away for free. For instance, one of Ribbit’s partners is SimulScribe, which offers a visual voicemail service starting at $10 a month that transcribes your voicemails so you can read them like e-mails. (SimulScribe also just settled a patent suit related to this technology). Another developer created a ShoutCast app for blogs that lets readers leave voice-comments or call in at pre-set times. Stay tuned for beta invites.